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Updated Friday, November 9, 2012 at 02:30 PM

Why trend of late Washington football games is bad news for Husky fans

By Steve Kelley
Times staff columnist

Last June I bought tickets to a Neil Young concert at KeyArena, paying almost $200 for the pair.

I checked my calendar, saw that Washington was playing Utah that day and foolishly thought to myself, "Wow, Nov. 10 is going to be an entertainment bonanza. Football during the day and Neil at night."

This show was going to be Neil Young and Crazy Horse, which I was hoping would mean he would be singing "Cinnamon Girl" and "Cowgirl in the Sand" and "Down by the River" and "Everybody Knows this is Nowhere."

A Saturday like this is, or so I thought, part of what makes living in Seattle so rich. Neil Young is a Hall of Famer who hasn't lost a step. And the Washington-Utah game could have serious bowl implications.

My emails this week told me I wasn't the only person who was hoping to double dip Saturday and, like those emailers, I waited nervously last Sunday, waiting to discover the kickoff time for Saturday's football game.

The news was as bad as it could get for the musically inclined football fan. Kickoff at 7:30. Late Night with the Huskies — again. And now a decision had to be made: Hello, Keith Price and so long, Crazy Horse? Or hello, Neil and sorry, Shaq Thompson?

This is college athletics' new world order. Traditions don't matter anymore. The days of the 12:30 kickoff are dwindling. Those golden delicious afternoons in the fall have been replaced by the darkened uncertainties of night.

Every conference is chasing the television money. And every conference is willing to trade tradition for gold. So a couple of times during the football season, like this week in Seattle, football fans can't make plans for the upcoming weekend until six days before kickoff.

It isn't fair, but that's the way it is and the way it's going to remain.

But it isn't just the uncertainty of times for these kickoffs, it's the concern over all of the night games. Only one of Washington's six home games was played in the early afternoon. Half of them started after 7.

Think about fans living on the Olympic Peninsula. They buy a couple of season tickets and pay another $1,000 or so to the Tyee Club so they can select good seats.

They leave early in the afternoon for Washington's night games and they return home about 2 a.m. And what if those families have children, the next generation of Husky fans? It makes going to the games much less fun and much more work.

College football is more than just a game, and many season-ticket holders come for more than football. They come for the experience, the tailgating and the marching bands. There isn't a more social setting in sports than the parking lots or the campus greenswards that surround the football stadiums.

In the course of fundraising for the remodeled Husky Stadium, one of the sales pitches was the scenery. The views inside and outside Husky Stadium arguably are the most beautiful in the game.

But as Jerry and Colleen Zitkovich said in an email, "What good is the setting when you can't see the red and gold leaves, gorgeous Mount Rainier and the sun reflecting off the water, when the games are played at night?"

As a boy I remember waking up on crisp, sunny college football Saturdays and hearing my father say, "This is great football weather." I promise you my father wouldn't be settling into his seat at 7:30 Saturday at CenturyLink Field, thinking this was great football weather. College football wasn't meant to be played at night in the cold, in the North.

"Night games are not the wonderful tradition with crisp, sun-filled days," the Zitkovichs said.

But night games are the new reality. The television networks rule the game. They make the calls. They aren't interested in the aesthetics of Saturdays. For the networks, the season-ticket holders don't count. The long, late-night drives home don't matter.

And, if you have tickets for Neil Young in Seattle Saturday night, well trust me, the networks don't care where you go.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com


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